Monday, April 19, 2010

The Final (Media) Frontier

When was the last time you curled up with a good book? I hear Glenn Beck, Dick Morris, Mitt Romney, and Karl Rove are all on the New York Times bestseller's list. Put the book down; let's talk newspapers, instead. Wall Street Journal does better than the NYT and the Washington Post. Eh, print is dead, right? What about radio? Air America officially went out of business months ago, while Rush Limbaugh just keeps growing more popular. But, who really listens to talk radio anymore? Television's where it's at, right? The top cable news shows are all on Fox News, where Bill O'Reilly has been the king of ratings for over eight years straight. Oh, forget it; there's nothing but garbage on the tube.

These are all "dinosaur media", anyway. The Internet is the most "reliable" news source, and it's the future of all media. And we all know who dominates the web, don't we? That's right; the Left. Howard Dean "pioneered" the online campaign when he ran for president in 2004, albeit unsuccessfully. His technique was improved upon, though, by the Obama team in 2008. Liberal blogs and websites like the Huffington Post and the Daily Kos have been around practically forever, in terms of Internet presence. Heck, Al Gore invented the Internet.

On the other hand, while it may take conservatives a while to catch up, we're never content with simply tying; pulling ahead is always the aim. Take Governor McDonnell's recent election victory in Virginia. Learning from President Obama's election, McDonnell spent a higher than normal percentage of his campaign funds garnering online support and purchasing online advertising. Senator Scott Brown spent even more in his own successful campaign in Massachusetts. The Tea Party movement has found the Internet to be invaluable for organizational purposes.

Technology, of course, is expanding in almost quantum leaps, these days; whoever can best utilize it will undoubtedly find greater success. Twitter, for example, is used by most as nothing more than a way to blather whatever they happen to think or do at any given moment. Some find more important uses for it. Members of Congress and their aides send out dozens of tweets a day. Republicans in Congress have more followers than their Democratic colleagues, though. Senator John McCain has the most followers by far, at around 106,000; and this was a man who, just a couple of years ago, admitted to having only a very limited understanding of computers. I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Another example of a conservative politician making good use of technology is Governor Rick Perry. His home state of Texas is practically a haven of the tech industry, with its business-friendly environment drawing hubs for Facebook, the Austin-based Gowalla, and the South by Southwest Conference (SXSW). As conservative blogger Mary Katherine Ham writes in The Weekly Standard, "If you believe the conventional wisdom about Republicans and technology ... Perry should have no clue why Gowalla matters to Texas. But here he is, using a touch-screen smartphone to tell the community of Gowalla users he's 'checking in' at the Texas State Capitol."

Perhaps it's a lack of innovation, as the Left seems to argue, that has kept the Right from "pioneering" in information technology. Perhaps the paradigm shift of treating this new technology as just another form of the old was a slow adjustment for some of the "establishment" campaign chiefs, and it took a new generation of leaders on the Right before they could adapt. Personally, I think it has to do with the nature of conservatism itself. We like things how they are. We're realistic enough to accept that the world changes, for both good and ill; but all things considered, I know I for one am comfortable reading cloth-bound books with actual paper and ink, as opposed to e-readers. I didn't even start an official blog until just over a year ago.

But, with all entities, whether individuals, businesses, or political campaigns, success depends on adapting to new technology, new techniques and strategies. I believe that, just as with print, radio, and television, conservatives will prove to be formidable users of the Internet.

Update 30 April 2010:

Another example of a conservative making good use of online resources is Marco Rubio, now the de facto GOP nominee for the U.S. Senate in Florida. Without the support of rightwing bloggers, online fundraising, and of course the Tea Party, the Cuban former Speaker of Florida's legislature would have long ago been forced to abandon his bid, and "establishment candidate" Governor Charlie Crist would be the undisputed leader in the race. Now, in a Cinderella story the envy of any politician, Rubio is virtually on his way to Washington.

Update 30 July 2010:

It's official (for now, anyway). Conservatives are dominating the web., which tracks blogs and ranks them by popularity, now shows Hot Air and The Corner (both of them conservative blogs) as the top two political blogs, with three more conservative blogs in the top ten. The Huffington Post, which used to hold the number one spot, has dropped to number five. Now, this is the Internet, and you can't really expect these numbers (or anything else) to remain constant; but with fewer than a hundred days left before the midterm elections, the influence of conservatives on the blogosphere is potentially more "game changing" than ever. And with the recent dual online ideological conventions of Netroots Nation and RightOnline, you can expect the Internet to become a fierce political battleground once again.

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